Commentary

TV Programmers, Beware. Here Comes Gen Z And Massive Disruption

Just as marketers have mastered Millennials, along comes Gen Z. This cohort ranges up to age 20, a life stage when marketers dream of connecting before brand habits harden.

As researchers constantly in the field surveying consumers, especially youth, we see Gen Z as “amplified Millennials” — more diverse, for example — “anti-Millennials” — less idealistic, more cynical. Of particular interest is how Gen Z differs in their appetite for video content. Marketers and programmers shouldn’t expect tricks that work with Millennials to work with this younger cohort.

When it comes to TV and video, Millennials led the charge as “cord cutters” and “cord nevers” but also developed a love of television that helped propel a new golden age of TV hits like "The Walking Dead" and "This Is Us.” Millennials presented a paradox, a passion for TV content without a passion for television sets, seen in the rise of streaming services and cable channels like FX and AMC that specialize in appointment viewing.

Though not much younger, Gen Z just hasn’t developed much interest in TV-style programming. If Netflix is Millennials’ power brand, the entertainment brand that most mirrors Gen Z is YouTube, embodying the shift to shorter-form content and Pringles-style binge watching, and this habit of  watching short bites for long stretches has important implications for programmers. 

Growing Up On Short Form

Growing up on short-form content has trained Gen Z to dole out their attention in miniature units. They demand involvement every moment of their viewing experience, by amusing talk, surprising visuals, or constant humor. 

But YouTube is also the showplace for the democratization of celebrity, and the professionalization of amateur video. Gen Z likes, trusts, and watches more content from regular people than from Hollywood stars. They love authenticity, accessibility, and the feeling of connection with stars like PewDiePie, elrubiusOMG, Ray William Johnson, and Michelle Phan and much prefer watching folks like themselves unboxing gaming equipment to watching live sports. Marketers who transfer YouTube phenoms to TV or to movie-like environments miss the point. 

Gen Zers — highly entrepreneurial and hoping to make it — like seeing others literally make it. The tools to create amateur videos that look less amateur hour are now in the hands of YouTube stars, as well as those of their audience. For Gen Zers, watching something they might have made themselves gives a feeling of involvement that slick productions can’t. Imperfect people, being unpredictable and sharing their ADDs creates a feeling of personal participation that Gen Zs seek. 

YouTube is not the only force shaping Gen Z’s preferences. The other key example is perhaps YouTube’s opposite — gaming. Game experiences deploy cutting-edge video technologies that create a sense of total Immersion but gaming shares something important to the YouTube effect – content that allows a greater sense of participation. 

Gen Z will increasingly demand to feel they are part of the action through avatars or by watching someone doing something they, too, can do. While no one can say with certainty what the future will bring, we can count on new technologies from VR to new social media to make video content increasingly immersive and more tightly woven into everyday life.  As entertainment escapes its traditional boundaries, expect changes not just in how TV and video are viewed, but in what they are as media.

Millennials drove the rush to on-demand and streaming content but Gen Zers are even more intense. Kids, even toddlers, absolutely lose it if the screen they face can’t be controlled by touch. Young consumers will surely demand more control from touch screens to alternative storylines, demands that will call for new ways of telling stories to maintain engagement. 

In Gen Z we see the evolving shift from words as a primary means of communicate to visuals. Grinder’s recent release of “Gaymoji” is a nod to how important visuals are in interpersonal communications — as well as a smart move to increase user engagement. 

Finally, one way Gen Z behaves similarly to Millennials is in their reliance on brands. In today’s hyper-choice entertainment landscape, Gen Z relies on brands ,too — “branded personalities” and YouTube channels — to reassure them that they’re making the right choices. In the end, the work that must be put into producing brand-building video content, though shifting rapidly, is well worth the effort.

3 comments about "TV Programmers, Beware. Here Comes Gen Z And Massive Disruption".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, May 15, 2017 at 10:51 a.m.

    TV programmers could probably care less about Gen Z, Robin, as they know that such verry light viewers are not going to be a significant factor in total audience attainment----no matter what kinds of content they offer. You mention games and, yes, there is no doubt that this particular digital media format appeals to young folks and attracts a very engaged constituency. But on TV game shows are mainly for old folks and it is unlikely that this would change even if a new kind of game---a Max Headroom" style show---was developed. I doubt that it would find a slot on syndication's Prime Access lineup. What most TV programmers know---from long experience and lots of research---ios that today's hip, trendy, light viewing, 18-year-old will, over time, become, first, a moderate TV viewer and later, a heavy TV viewer----so what's the problem?

  2. Robin Hafitz from open mind strategy, May 16, 2017 at 1:37 p.m.

    Dream on, Ed.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 16, 2017 at 3:34 p.m.

    Robin, to think that TV programmers face a major "disruption" problem due to the arrival of a few million light viewing "Gen Zers' each year, who enter the "Millennial" age definition, is truly dreaming. It makes a really provocative headline for a "thinkpiece" ----until one thinks about it a bit. Yep, I'll keep on dreaming, thank you.

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